Oxygen: A tale of portability

Wednesday, June 30, 2004

MANSFIELD, Ohio - Ary Van Harlingen’s done dabbling with home respiratory therapy.
A. Van Harlingen

“I went out (last year) and talked to some doctors and said, ‘What are you looking for? What is wrong? What is broken, and what do you want fixed?’” said Van Harlingen, president of Shaw & Ott Medical Supplies. “The market is demanding more personal, quicker responses. I saw an opportunity.”

This spring, Van Harlingen continued his expansion in home respiratory services when he forked over thousands of dollars for a liquid oxygen delivery truck. It’s the most efficient way to refill liquid-oxygen reservoirs in patient homes, Van Harlingen said, and goes hand in hand with his strategy of providing each patient the most appropriate modality at the lowest cost.

For ambulatory patients, which comprise about 30% of the company’s respiratory patient base, Shaw & Ott deploy either Puritan Bennett’s liquid Helios system, Caire’s Liberator/Spirit liquid system or Invacare’s Venture HomeFill II transfill-ing oxygen concentrator. For stationary patients, the company installs a standard concentrator and E-tanks for occasional outside travels.

“Our growth has been phenomenal,” Van Harlingen said. “One doctor, who is very outspoken, said when he calls a national, it can take them two to three weeks to get back with an answer because of the layers of bureaucracy. I can make a decision on the phone. Service is the main ingredient.”

Respiratory services now constitute about 40% of Shaw & Ott’s $3 million business - up from about 28% before the expansion. By year’s end, Van Harlingen expects home respiratory services to represent 50% of his revenue.

Currently, about 60% of Shaw & Ott’s ambulatory respiratory patients use Invacare’s Venture Homefill. Van Harlingen bolstered his liquid offering to compete with the nationals - Apria, Lincare and American HomePatient. In his area, the HME giants market extensively the popular lightweight, long-lasting portable Helios system and the benefits of 100% pure liquid oxygen.

If he had his druthers, however, Van Harlingen said, he prefers the Venture Homefill to competing liquid systems. It cuts down on delivery and maintenance costs, is therapeutically effective, lightweight and portable. It’s also more convenient for patients who travel overnight away from home. Such patients don’t have to find a provider to refill their liquid reservoir or tanks, he said.

The Helios, however, has one significant advantage over similar sized compressed gas systems: It lasts longer, said veteran respiratory provider Alan Kirk, vice president of Total Home Health in Elgin, Ill.

“There are patients who have had both and they love the liquid and never change, mainly for portable use,” Kirk said.

Nevertheless, Van Harlingen said, he considers the versatile Homefill the most cost-effective solution to shrinking reimbursement.

“But will it be the winner?” he added. “I think it will be interesting in two years to see the market.”